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April 16 2010 £1.20 (Republic of Ireland €1.70)
Archbishop Nichols takes legal advice over newspaper’s ‘unwarranted slur’
BY MARK GREAVES
ARCHBISHOP Vincent Nichols of Westminster is considering legal action against the Times newspaper over its allegation that he tried to protect a paedophile.
The story, published on the front page on Saturday, marked a new low in relations between the Church and the British media.
The paper alleged that the Archbishop “protected” a priest who abused children at a Benedictine school in west London – even though, as then Archbishop of Birmingham, he had no involvement in the case.
A Church spokesman said: “The attempt to saddle the Archbishop with responsibility for this tragic case is completely unfounded and is an unwarranted slur. His office is taking legal advice.”
Sources close to Westminster have confirmed that one of the options being considered is a possible court action for defamation.
The story came amid what has been described as a “feeding frenzy” in the press over the Church’s handling of clerical sex abuse.
Bishop Kieran Conry of Arundel and Brighton said the Times report showed “all sorts of misapprehensions” about the Church.
He said: “If the Archbishop of Westminster is perceived to be the head of the Catholic Church in this country, which is a fallacy, then everything that happens, happens on his watch. The Ealing case is an example of that. [The media] assume the Archbishop runs everything, including the Benedictines.”
In 2006 and 2007 Fr David Pearce abused a boy at St Benedict’s Abbey in Ealing even though, as a result of previous allegations, he was forbidden from contact with children. The Times pointed out that Archbishop Nichols was chairman of the Catholic Office for the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults (Copca) at the time. However, he was not involved in the case and responsibility for the priest lay with the Benedictines who ran the school.
Bishop Conry, a frank critic of the Church’s handling of sex abuse cases, also condemned attempts to implicate Pope Benedict XVI in abuse cover-ups.
“[The media] is clutching at
A Church spokesman has said the Times’s claim against Archbishop Vincent Nichols is ‘completely unfounded’
straws,” he said. “They are trying to generate stories that aren’t necessarily there.”
The latest attempt to implicate the Pope came in a report by the Associated Press which claimed that he delayed laicising a paedophile priest because of concerns over “the good of the universal Church”.
Reports failed to note that it was the priest himself, Fr Stephen Kiesle, who asked to be laicised, therefore it was not a punishment for abuse. He had, in fact, already been suspended from active ministry, and had been given a threeyear suspended sentence for sexually assaulting two boys.
Bishop Conry is one of many commentators – both Catholic and secular – to strongly criticise media coverage of the abuse scandal.
Austen Ivereigh, co-ordinator of Catholic Voices, a project training well-known Catholics to speak to the media during the Pope’s visit, said the Church was being used as a scapegoat for widespread child sex abuse.
In an article for America magazine, he said: “The coverage has now moved into a new, irrational phase. The media have merged with the mob. They are not standing outside the crowd, coolly examining the facts. They are standing in locus vulgi [the place of the crowd].”
The Times, he claimed, had “led the way in promoting hysteria and distortion”. He cited coverage in the Sunday Times of a plan by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens to arrest the Pope.
“Rather than report this as a publicity gimmick, or at least point out how dubious are the legal arguments, the Times reports this as if it is a perfectly sensible response to established facts, and even enlists a semi-Catholic columnist [Libby Purves] to agree with the idea,” he wrote.
George Weigel, an American Catholic author, claimed that the “scandal-mongering had now metastasised into a full-scale assault on Catholicism itself”.
He said the papal trip to Britain was “in trouble” and urged English and Welsh bishops to devote “the next four months to the most vigorous defence of the truth of Catholic faith”.
Both Mr Weigel and Mr Ivereigh pointed out that many of the recent child abuse stories had been supplied to journalists by lawyers bringing class actions against the Church. “The interpretations which the lawyers are keen to put on them are precisely those which the media uncritically adopt,” Dr Ivereigh said.
Jeffrey Steel, a blogger and theologian who set up the Facebook group “Catholics who condemn the media’s treatment of the
Pope”, which now has over 2,400 members, said he had “completely lost respect” for the Times as a newspaper.
Mr Steel said: “The person who has been most responsible for trying to sort out [clergy sex abuse] is our present Holy Father. Why aren’t they trying to support him rather than look for a smoking gun that isn’t there?”
Brendan O’Neill, the humanist editor of Spiked Online, described the campaign against the Pope as “a secular Inquisition”. He said it had acquired “a powerfully pathological, obsessive” character in which “scaremongering supersedes facts”.
Fr Timothy Radcliffe, a Dominican theologian, said the reporting of the abuse scandal had been “unjust”.
He said: “Of course we need the scrutiny of the media. They have been necessary to make us face this terrible failure. But often facts are misreported, innuendo is used to undermine innocent people’s reputation, as with the case of Archbishop Nichols and the Pope, in ways that are simply unjust. The media rightly demand that the Church be accountable for its failures, but the media, too, must by accountable for the way that they can undermine the very people who are doing everything possible to confront this scandal.”
James Bogle, chairman of the Catholic Union of Great Britain, said the attempt to draw Pope Benedict into the abuse scandal was “irresponsible journalism”.
He described recent attacks on the Pope in the Times, notably by columnist India Knight, as “sickmaking”.
“There is simply no evidence [of the Pope’s complicity], but that cuts no ice in a media frenzy where merely to believe in religion is sufficient basis for presumed guilt of the most awful crimes,” he said. “This is not freedom, justice or liberalism. This is dark, sinister intolerance, bigotry and religious vilification of the sort that used to flourish in this country 200 years ago when Catholics were persecuted simply for being Catholic. Civilised and liberal-minded people had hoped that sort of intolerance was long gone. Tragically, it seems to be making a comeback.”
This week the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published online its guidelines to bishops on how to deal with abuse.
According to the Vatican commentator John Allen, the document makes explicit for the first time the need for bishops to report abuse to the police. It states: “Civil law concerning reporting of crimes to the appropriate authorities should always be followed.”
Meanwhile, Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi defended Pope Benedict as a credible leader on the issue of priestly sex abuse, saying his respect for truth and transparency stood out against recent “unfounded insinuations”.
The Times was not available for comment.
Editorial comment: Page 13
Turin Shroud was hidden from Hitler during Second World War
BY JOHN THAVIS IN ROME
THE SHROUD of Turin was hidden in an Italian Benedictine abbey during the Second World War because Church authorities feared Adolf Hitler wanted to steal it, according to an official at the monastery.
The Shroud, which many believe to have been the burial cloth of Christ, was transferred secretly from Turin cathedral in 1939 to the abbey of Montevergine and returned to Turin in 1946, after the war.
Officially, the reason later given for the transfer was fear that the cloth could have been damaged if the city of Turin was bombed. But Benedictine Fr Andrea Cardin, director of the Montevergine library which holds the relevant documents, said Church officials also seemed to fear that the Nazis wanted to take possession of the Shroud.
In 1938 Church leaders were alarmed when, during a visit by Hitler to Italy, Nazi officials asked unusual and persistent questions about the Shroud, Fr Cardin told Italian magazine Diva e Donna.
That worried the Vatican as well as the Italian royal family, the Savoys, who at the time were the owners of the Shroud, Fr Cardin said. Hitler was obsessed about certain objects related to the life of Christ, including the Holy Grail and lance of Longinus.
The Shroud, which bears the image of an apparently crucified man, went on display last week in Turin cathedral,
where it is kept. Pope Benedict XVI, who will visit the Shroud on May 2, said he hoped it would help people in their search for God. He said it had “once again encouraged a large flow of pilgrims, but also studies, reflections, and above all an extraordinary call to the mystery of Christ’s suffering”. Organisers said close to 1.5 million people have made reservations to visit the Shroud.
Vatican Notebook: Page 4
Vatican joins the blogosphere at last
Catholic comedian declines papal offer
BY ANNA ARCO
AFTER JOINING internet social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, the Vatican has started a blog.
The online journal, www. visnews-en.blogspot.com, was launched on Monday for the Vatican Information Service, which publishes the Vatican daily bulletin. It serves as a faster way of posting items on the internet, but predominantly will publish the contents of the daily Vatican bulletin. There was always a time lag between the announcement of the Vatican bulletin at midday and its publication online and this innovation, it is hoped, will speed the process up.
The first post on the new blog contained the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s guidelines, written for lay people, on dealing with the abuse of minors by priests. The blog also hosts an archive of older press releases.
The Vatican also has a YouTube channel.
BY ED WEST
COMEDIAN Frank Skinner has turned down the chance to compere an evening with the Pope in favour of becoming the president of the Samuel Johnson Society.
The Catholic comic was asked by Church officials to appear after the Holy Father during a service in Hyde Park, London, in September to avoid overcrowding as people left the event.
Skinner joked that the show could have been seen as the Pope being his warm-up act, but he had already agreed to become president of the
Samuel Johnson Society in Litchfield, Staffordshire.
He said: “It’s not that often you get to blow out the Pope. I’d like to think it’s a pivotal moment in my life.”
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